Robyn Hendry, CEO of the Canberra Business Chamber, talks about the pervasiveness of digital technology in our lives and how digital tools are essential for leveraging opportunities in business.
Digital technology has become pervasive in our personal and professional lives. Overall, this has been a positive change. For instance, many years ago when I was working in hotels, we had manual systems for checking people in; you had to write up little bits of paper. Digital systems have completely changed many of our business processes; for instance we now do most of our accommodation bookings online.
Digital and mobile technology have revolutionised the way we do things, but not necessarily what we’re doing. I use digital technology in every aspect of my life. Dealing with the tsunami of emails we wrestle with on a daily basis, of course, but also the social channels like Twitter and Facebook, and other information management systems are now very important. I use it for everything from keeping track of where my children are to being able to run a diary and manage a very busy schedule.
Productivity and reactivity
There’s a lot of commentary around the impact of technology on productivity. The most optimistic commentary says we’ve been liberated to be able to work anywhere anytime. This is true to the extent that we are not so office bound; we can be on top of things and react quickly because information comes to hand so much more readily. That’s the optimistic view but of course the pessimistic view is we are now struggling with trying to delineate between our working life and our other life and we are ‘on’ constantly. That’s not necessarily good for all elements of our work. We don’t do things as thoroughly, we’re sometimes too quick to react and we don’t take the downtime we need.
Those are the two ends of the spectrum. I sit somewhere in the middle; I agree we have been liberalised and we do now have information at our fingertips so we can inform ourselves quickly, consider the available information and respond quickly in a much more productive way. On the other hand I’m as guilty as the next person of checking my emails at night before I go to bed and really wondering sometimes whether a little bit more white space is good for thinking.
It provides us with tremendous tools that we need to use effectively, and most of us do. But perhaps we also need to work on putting some quarantining in place as well so we’re not forever burdened with whatever comes into our inbox. We need to learn to prioritise whatever is most important rather than being consumed by our digital channels.
The rapid pace of the changes in technology has taught us to react quickly and this isn’t always the best way. We’re used to getting things off our desk instantly. This means we focus on the things that are easy to do so you can see the to-do list shrink quickly and there’s gratification in that, but you’re then neglecting tasks that need a bit more time and thought.
There’s a saying that your inbox represents the to-do lists of other people rather than your own to-do list. There is a lot of truth in that and it means you need to apply some discipline and quarantining so you can prioritise the tasks that are most urgent and important on your to-do list. This isn’t new; we’ve had to work on these skills since long before digital technology played such a prominent role in our lives. We may just need to reassess how we do this in the digital age, because I’m not for a minute going to suggest that we shouldn’t be taking advantage of all these digital tools at our disposal.
Opportunities for business growth
One of the greatest opportunities the rise of digital technology has given business is access to a global market without even needing to leave your office. In the ACT we’ve had export growth of about 16% in the last few years particularly in our services area. That’s driven by education, by tourism, by exporting our knowledge through people with expertise doing work for contracts overseas, so as a small jurisdiction here, it has suddenly opened up not just international markets, but also national markets.
In the ACT we’ve been particularly focused over the last few years on diversifying our economy here, away from such heavy reliance on federal government expenditure, whether that expenditure is expanding or contracting.
How we do that is not just doing business with the 400,000 people who live here but using digital technologies to do business much further afield. The digital tools that enable this, combined with an attractive lifestyle in Canberra, are very powerful in attracting new talent and new businesses.
We’ve become so accustomed to the efficiencies and improvements wrought by the use of digital tools that we tend to take them for granted. If we return to the accommodation example, consider the emergence of the shared economy, with platforms like AirBnB bringing dynamic pricing. These have inbuilt tools and algorithms that match supply and demand with pricing and special offers so they can optimise a competitive position. We haven’t had the knowledge to be able to fine-tune those triggers before.
The opportunity here is an end to the days of distressed inventory sitting on your shelf. There is assistance with determining pricing, how to reach customers, whether supply will exceed demand or vice-versa. You can now gather data and work out a much more efficient application of resources or use big data to target customers. Distribution has been revolutionised. We can now track where everything is going, where it is in transit, we know exactly how long it takes from ordering to arrival. You can get it quickly, you don’t have to worry about having too much or too little stock, it can be shipped around the world, in a way we’ve just never known before. By using digital tools it’s much more precise science.
In the case of a hotel, this means not having empty rooms. For a retailer, it means getting stock moving. There are so many more channels now, you can offer an online special if you want to maintain stock levels in the physical store, for instance.
Digital tools have led to the establishment of new businesses built on buying distressed stock from around the world and then selling it in different locations for reduced prices. You couldn’t have done any of that without the digital tools we have now because previously you wouldn’t know who had the stock sitting in their inventory and you couldn’t connect with people who’d be willing to buy it from you.
It’s better for business and better for the consumer and better for the environment. It’s allowed us to be much more resource efficient, and this, in addition to capturing knowledge and managing our systems are the things we most want to leverage through use of digital tools.
The value of business conferences
In the world of business, the value of meeting others and listening to their stories and gaining increased knowledge has not diminished.
We know that despite the effectiveness of digital tools, face-to-face meetings still matter. Gaining connections, sharing experiences, building knowledge and learning from others is imperative. The conversations that provide insights and inspiration, and in particular meeting people with similar problems, take us to the next level in our professional lives. It’s an enriching experience.
Sometimes at an event it’s the conversation you have over a cup of coffee at the morning tea break or sometimes it’s the inspiring presentation by one of the speakers or anything in between.
It’s great to have a digital innovation conference like Mobile-ising Women in Business come to Canberra. We need to take full advantage in Canberra to make the most of opportunities presented by digital innovation to grow our economy.
We have a digital-savvy business community in Canberra, but there is always more to learn. With the fast pace of digital developments, it’s critical to stay on top of things, and this event is an ideal opportunity to learn from experts working at the cutting edge.
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